What can pilots do to minimize parasite drag?

As far as I know the effect of parasite drag really depends on the manufacturer of the airplane, but can pilots do anything about it?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ About all I know a pilot can do is to fly it trimmed and wash it once in a while... $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ fly higher, or at least high enough $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ One of the guys flying my Cherokee wanted to go faster and looked into all of the speed mods available. loprestiaviation.com/aerodynamic-mods-6/pa-28-s-cherokee.html He decided that the cheapest way to go faster would be to buy a faster airplane. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 13:45

3 Answers 3


Parasite drag is for the most part out of a pilot's hands, as it's a combination of:

  • Form drag: drag from an airplane's general shape
  • Interference drag: drag from airflow mixing around parts of the aircraft structure
  • Skin friction drag

You can reduce skin friction drag by keeping the airplane clean, dirt and smashed bugs cause friction, removing them reduces friction. You can also make sure all the little doors are flush. Other than that you can't do much without making changes to the airplane itself, for instance:

  • Flush fuel caps
  • Wheel spats: these aren't decorative, they reduce the wheels' drag by providing an aerodynamic cover
  • Seal kits: these reduce interference drag by smoothing airflow
  • Cowling replacements
  • Fairing replacement

Whether these are worth the cost depends on the airplane, Cessna 152/172s are very draggy to begin with because of their rivets and wing struts, you could dump thousands into additions for very little benefit. Other airplanes get measurable improvements in speed from a few seals here and there.


Pilots can help keep parasitic drag to a minimum by:

  • closing all doors, hatches and windows
  • retracting the landing gear ;-)
  • keeping seatbelts from hanging outside of the aircraft during flight
  • not adding GoPro cameras to the outside of the aircraft

Some competitors at the National Championship Air races in Reno, Nevada, depending on class, will tape-over wing and fuselage seams and gaps. This is commonly seen in the Sport Class where general aviation, kit based, planes compete.


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